Following is an excerpt from the Homfray Childs lecture entitled, “The Periods of Development”
Dr. Montessori warned us that no amount of good teaching would help the children if it was given at the wrong time. We must study and observe development and find out what are their particular aptitudes at every stage of development. For every period prepares for the next, and if the children are neglected during one period this cannot be put right in the next however hard the teacher and pupils may work. The children may learn somehow after a fashion, but they will not have the real mastery they would have gained easily if they had been able to work at the right time. But if we can give the right conditions and the right help the children will not only make good progress, they will astonish us by showing powers that we never suspected.
Observation and experience show that the children of the 3 - 6 period are happy in the peace and security of the Children’s House. They are at a stage when they are exploring the world by their visual and tactile senses, and through these senses they can acquire their letters and numbers without difficulty or mental strain. In the next period they enjoy the more stimulating atmosphere of the Primary school. They are capable of real study and work and they have a great energy and enthusiasm and a tremendous thirst for information. We must try and satisfy their curiosity and give them plenty of interesting work to do, for as long as they can be active they will never be bored. But in the third period, especially between 12 and 15, we must not expect the same rapid progress in school work. The adolescent has already spent many years in school, and it is time for a relaxation of discipline and routine. This is a period of strain, great adjustments, mental as well as physical have to be made, and the young people of this age should not be urged to work more than they feel able. Speaking of the difficulties of the third year when temper tantrums are so frequent, Dr. Gesell compares the child of this age half-seriously with the difficult adolescent, and there is a real parallel between the two ages.
We cannot expect consistently reasonable behavior at these times, for so many changes are going on that the individuals themselves do not quite know where they are. We must think of the adolescent as something of an infant, and something of an invalid, for tolerance or even indulgence is wiser than too great severity in management at this age. The adolescent has a great work of development to accomplish; Dr. Montessori said that it was at this time that the social side of the character as contrasted with the individual personality is constructed. The mind too is becoming mature, and in their own time and at their own pace the adolescents will continue their education with enthusiasm especially if the foundations have been well laid in the previous periods.
At every stage we must study the children and make sure that we are giving them the mental food they need. Intelligence is characteristic of humanity; and to exercise intelligence is a joy. If the school teaching causes mental fatigue, if it causes boredom and apathy then the teaching is wrong. Children enjoy learning because they are fresh to the world and everything is interesting to them. Our system of education cannot be right unless the children are enthusiastic and get pleasure and satisfaction from their work.